CUET-UG will remain the most sought-after entrance test: UGC Chief 

CUET is around the corner and to make note of what’s new with the exam this time, we speak to the University Grants Commission Chairman, Prof Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar
File picture of UGC Chief Prof M Jagadesh Kumar | (Pic: Express)
File picture of UGC Chief Prof M Jagadesh Kumar | (Pic: Express)

Ahead of the Common University Entrance Test for Postgraduate courses (CUET PG), University Grants Commission (UGC) Chairman Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar shares insights on the third edition of the CUET and the strategies students should incorporate while preparing for the entrance exam.

According to the National Testing Agency (NTA), the CUET PG is scheduled to be held from March 11 to 28, 2024. As per reports, CUET PG 2024 has witnessed a total of 4.6 lakh student registrations which marks a slight increase from last year’s 4.5 lakh registrations. The CUET for the undergraduate courses is scheduled to be held from May 15 to 31, 2024. 

Before proceeding to the EdexLive exclusive Q&A interview with the chairman, let's have a look at the changes which were incorporated for CUET UG and PG 2024. They are:

- Possibility of normalisation of scores for CUET UG

- Conducting tests in hybrid models both CBT and OMR sheet-based

- While CUET UG witnesses an increase in exam centres, CUET PG has a dip in exam centres   

- The number of questions for CUET PG has been reduced from 100 to 75 multiple choice questions (MCQs), and the CUET PG exam duration has been reduced to 105 minutes as against 120 minutes earlier

- NTA has increased the CUET PG fee for all category students by Rs 200. Candidates belonging to the general category will have to pay Rs 1,200 and those under OBC-NCL(Non-Creamy Layer of Other Backward Classes)/Gen-EWS (Economically Weaker Section) will have to pay Rs 1,000

- The CUET PG fee for additional test papers is Rs 600 for each paper. Additionally, applicants outside India applying for up to two tests will have to pay Rs 6,000 and Rs 2,000 for additional papers

- NTA has also increased the application fees for the UG exam. The amount for the General Category students which was Rs 750 has been increased to Rs 1000 for up to three subjects. For the other category students, there has been a hike of an amount of Rs 150-200 rupees as compared to the previous year.

CUET is entering its third year. What are the changes that have been initiated for the year 2024 and how do you envision it for the forthcoming years?
The introduction of CUET-UG has changed the landscape of undergraduate admissions in India. With nearly 290 universities adopting it and a growing number of students sitting for CUET-UG, this test has become a new normal. Very popular among the students. 

The number of students admitted through CUET-UG is significantly larger than those admitted through either the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) or National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET).

CUET-UG this year will be conducted in a hybrid mode. Certainly, this is a much-needed step to make the exam more inclusive. But do you anticipate any challenges in this path and if yes, how are you preparing to circumvent it? Will this be implemented for CUET-PG as well?
We do not foresee any significant challenges in switching to the hybrid mode. NTA is working on the possibility of conducting papers with large registrations in OMR mode. This will help us choose a large number of schools as test centres. This will ensure that students get a centre within their town or city and do not have to travel to faraway places. 

Using a hybrid mode, that is, paper and pencil for papers with a large number of registrations and computer-based tests for papers with a smaller number of registrations, will ensure that CUET-UG can be conducted in a shorter duration, unlike in the last two years. Hybrid mode promotes equal opportunities for all, ensuring that geographical constraints do not hinder students' educational aspirations in rural and remote areas.

Additionally, the hybrid mode acknowledges the importance of adapting to diverse testing environments for the convenience of the students. This will ensure that we can announce the results by the third week of June 2024. Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) can then conduct admissions and start the academic session by the end of July 2024 or the beginning of August 2024.

In an approximation, the number of students registering for CUET-PG saw a decline in its second year. Why do you think students are apprehensive and what is the commission doing to assuage the students?
CUET-PG is not mandatory for central universities, unlike the CUET-UG. In addition, from year to year, the number of students taking CUET-PG may vary due to increasing job opportunities after completing their UG programmes. In any case, it is hard to draw any conclusions on the number of students participating in CUET-PG so early since we have completed only the third edition of CUET-PG.

Students have been complaining about the sudden hike in fees for the CUET-PG application this year, with an additional fee of Rupees 600 per paper. Do you think that this can be limiting for a certain section of students? Especially in the context that a delegation which met the Delhi University Vice-Chancellor in 2023 had particularly highlighted how there is a steep rise in the admission of students belonging to the upper-middle economic class due to the CUET.
NTA conducts the CUET tests on a no-loss, no-profit basis. The application fee is structured to cover the costs incurred by NTA for conducting the tests. Therefore, NTA tries to keep the application fee as low as possible. 

Even if CUET-UG is used for undergraduate admissions, all central universities strictly follow the reservation policies. They go through multiple cycles of merit lists and try to fill all the seats. CUET-UG provides a level playing ground to the students irrespective of their socio-economic or geographical status. 

Many universities have experienced increased diversity of students on their campuses, which is a positive development. Students from rural areas who otherwise would have thought it impossible to get into some of the best universities now get that opportunity because of CUET-UG.

The concept of the One Nation One Exam has been successfully put into praxis with the introduction of CUET. Although the idea met with resistance previously, with the progression of time can we expect a merger of NEET UG, JEE Main, and CUET soon? Have there been any deliberations on the same?

The first time we introduced CUET-UG in 2022, there was no resistance but questions and doubts about CUET-UG. I very frequently met the media and clarified those doubts. We used social media extensively and reached out to the students, teachers and parents to clarify their doubts. 

Looking back, I feel delighted that we have introduced CUET-UG, and it will remain the most sought-after entrance test as years pass by. 

There is a consensus that having One Nation One Exam will reduce students' burden and bring down their stress. Such a scheme indeed was suggested as part of the implementation of NEP2020. It is at the idea stage only now, and more discussions are required before it can be implemented.

CUET has shown that standardised tests can work for a country like India too, a diverse nation with diverse challenges like India. Do you see CUET getting into the league of GRE, GMAT, and other acclaimed standardised tests soon? What is your opinion on standardised tests in general...
Standardised tests for university admission offer a standardised, transparent and objective measure of a student's academic abilities, helping universities assess applicants from diverse educational backgrounds. 

In India, such tests are also conducted in multiple Indian languages, making them more equitable to students from different socio-economic backgrounds. 

In terms of the scale at which we conduct tests such as CUET, they already surpass most other standardised tests. CUET does provide a level playing ground to students irrespective of their board marks and social and economic background.  

While conceptualising the CUET exam, it was said that it would not encourage a coaching culture, but now several coaching classes have come up and are offering assistance to students on various subjects. Your thoughts on it.
Is coaching necessary for writing CUET-UG? Most students who have done well admit that they focussed more on their Class XII Board syllabus and that helped them do well in CUET-UG. We also keep the difficulty level of the questions in CUET-UG moderate. You can confirm this from student feedback.

What message would you like to give to the students appearing for CUET this year?
Students should adopt a balanced approach when preparing for entrance tests. They must use effective preparation strategies, stress management techniques, and a positive attitude. Students can then develop the capability to take entrance tests with high morale and resilience. Ultimately, this will improve their chances of success.

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